The General Service Board
In his talks at the momentous St. Louis convention, Bill repeatedly praised A.A.’s General Service Board for its role. He described the non-alcoholic trustees, in particular, as “selfless” and “devoted” and asked, “What would we have ever done without friends like these?” And well he might, for the formation of this body of responsible leaders, through a series of fortuitous circumstances, was critical to the survival of the precarious early Fellowship.
Returning home to New York following his meeting with Dr. Bob and the Akronites in the fall of 1937, Bill was armed with a shaky mandate to raise money to support hospitals, missionaries and the publication of a book. Bill and others in the New York group solicited a list of wealthy prospects, but “got absolutely nowhere.” Disappointed and dispirited, Bill visited his brother-in-law Dr. Leonard Strong, Jr., who could always be depended on as adviser and confidant. The doctor listened quietly while Bill poured out his frustration. Then, perhaps more to console Bill than for any other reason, Leonard volunteered that he had once known someone connected with the Rockefeller philanthropies. He wasn’t sure this man, Willard Richardson, was still alive or would remember him. But he offered to call and find out.
“Richardson was indeed alive and remembered Leonard Strong, and was delighted to hear from him. Moreover, he graciously consented to see Bill—the very next day. So Bill met Richardson—”an elderly gentleman who had twinkling eyes set in one of the finest faces I have ever seen”—in his office on the 56th floor of the RCA building. Richardson was warmly cordial and showed deep interest as Bill told his own story and that of the struggling Fellowship. A few days later, on November 10, 1937, he wrote Dr. Strong, “I have now had conferences with four men whose judgement as to the interesting story of Mr. Wilson I think is good…They thought the matter very important. They were all inclined to agree with me that… any organization of this project that tended to professionalize or institutionalize it would be… quite undesirable. Some of them thought quite as highly of Mr. Wilson’s experience as a religious one as they did of it as a liquor one.” The letter went on to suggest an early luncheon with Bill and Dr. Strong, out of which came an offer by Richardson to set up a meeting in John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s private boardroom.
As Bill recalled, “He would bring with him Mr. Albert Scott, chairman of the trustees for Riverside Church, Mr. Frank Amos, an advertising man and close friend, and Mr. LeRoy Chiprnan, an associate who looked after some of Mr. Rockefeller’s personal affairs.” Bill would be accompanied by Dr. Strong, Dr. Silkworth, several New York alcoholics and Dr. Bob with certain Akron members. At that meeting, after the alcoholics had told their own stories, Albert Scott declared, “Why, this is first-century Christianity! He then asked, “What can we do to help?”
Bill went over his agenda of hospital chains, paid workers and literature, with Dr. Bob, Dr. Silkworth and the others backing him up. But now Scott asked an important question, “Won’t money spoil this thing?” (Later, when the proposal reached Mr. Rockefeller, he expressed the same misgivings.)
The meeting ended with Frank Amos offering to travel to Akron to investigate the tiny Fellowship. He was mightily impressed and his report was enthusiastic, recommending $50,000 to support the work he had seen. The view of Scott and Richardson (and ultimately of Rockefeller, too) that “too much money could spoil the work” prevailed, however. Although Rockefeller agreed to provide $5,000, he expressed the opinion that the movement should soon become self-supporting.
But something more important than money did come out of the meetings. Richardson, Amos and Chipman had become sold on the budding movement and offered their own services. They continued to meet with Bill, Dr. Strong and the New York alcoholics to discuss how the movement could be given a structure. “By the spring of 1938,” relates Bill, “a definite program of action took shape. It was agreed that we needed a tax-free charitable trust or foundation.” To help form such a body, Frank Amos secured the help of a young friend, an attorney named John Wood.
Bill and his friends had grandiose plans for the foundation, so it was “chartered to do everything but lobby for Prohibition,” in the words of Bill. “We were chartered for education; we were chartered for research; we could do almost anything. And we [thought] we wanted a lot of money to do a lot of things.” It was also agreed that the Board of Trustees should consist of alcoholics and nonalcoholics, with the latter in the majority by a margin of one, to “assure our membership and other contributors that nonalcoholics would be holding the purse strings.”
This led to an impasse, because no one was able to define the difference between alcoholics and nonalcoholics to the satisfaction of John Wood’s legal mind. He finally suggested that the simplest solution would be to avoid a legalized charter and write up a trust agreement. This document was soon completed, and the Alcoholic Foundation became a reality. Its Board of Trustees was formally implemented on August 11, 1938, with five members, as follows:
Willard “Uncle Dick” Richardson, whom Bill called “one of the finest servants of God and man I shall ever know. [His] steady faith, wisdom and spiritual quality were our main anchors to windward during the squalls that fell on A.A. and its embryo service center in the first years, and he carried his conviction and enthusiasm to still others who labored for us so well.” Extremely perceptive and sensitive to the society’s needs, he remained devoted to A.A. from the moment he first heard Bill’s story until his death in 1952. He was to serve as nonalcoholic trustee from 1938 until 1949, when he was elected Trustee Emeritus.
Frank Amos, formerly publisher of a newspaper in Ohio, now handling national advertising in New York and a friend of Richardson. He served as non-A.A. trustee from 1938 to 1941 and again from 1949 to 1957, when he too was made Trustee Emeritus. He died in 1965.
John Wood, the lawyer who had drawn up the papers for the Alcoholic Foundation. He was to serve only one year.
Dr. Bob S., as one of the alcoholic trustees.
Bill R., a New York alcoholic. One of the provisions of the trust agreement stipulated that an alcoholic trustee would have to resign immediately if he drank. Unfortunately, this happened within a few months to Bill R.
In January, 1939, the size of the Board was increased to seven members with the addition of Dr. Leonard Strong, Jr. and another alcoholic, Harry B. Dr. Strong played an extremely important part in the history of A.A., for he had seen his brother-in-law Bill through the worst of his drinking and had gotten him to go to Towns Hospital. Not only did he provide the link to Willard Richardson and hence to Rockefeller, but he then served the Board of the Alcoholic Foundation as its secretary for 16 years. A formal, proper and meticulous person, he lent stability to the Board during his long and loyal service.
At first, Bill had visions that the existence of a tax-free foundation with responsible trustees would attract money from wealthy contributors. But all attempts to raise funds were unsuccessful. “So the whole business bogged down,” recalls Bill, “and the treasury of our Foundation remained empty. It looked like the end of the line.”
Meanwhile, Bill had begun work on what was to become the book Alcoholics Anonymous. (See Chap. 12 for full account.) So progress reports on the book became part of the Board business. At one of the early meetings, Frank Amos mentioned that one of his friends was Eugene Exman, religious editor of Harper, the publishing house. He suggested that Bill show him the few chapters he had completed and offered to make the appointment.
A few days later, Bill met with Exman. After reading the chapters, Exman asked how long it would take to complete and offered an advance of $1,500 against earnings when the book would be published by Harpers. Bill was at first elated, especially with the prospect of the $1,500. However, with characteristic vision, he had grave misgivings about the book’s being owned by an outside publisher in view of the thousands of copies that would surely be needed. He kept his doubts to himself when he broke the news to Frank Amos, who was delighted. “In any case,” Bill recalls, “it was fine to know that a firm like Harper wanted the book and that an editor of Gene’s caliber believed [in it.] This experience was one of the confidence builders that kept the book project going through thick and thin.”
At the next Foundation meeting, Bill reported on the Harper proposal. The Trustees “smiled happily. It was the first ray of hope in months. They were unanimously in favor of the deal.” Reluctantly, Bill expressed his misgivings. “But the nonalcoholics on the Board were not impressed.. .The meeting ended on a dismal note;… no conclusion was reached.”
At this time, Bill was associated with Hank P., the first alcoholic in the New York group to stay sober even for a little while, other than Bill. Hank, a “terrific power-driver,” urged Bill to ignore the trustees and the Foundation and take matters into their joint hands. They would form a stock company, sell shares to the New York members and publish the book themselves. With little persuasion, Bill agreed to charge ahead with the plan.
They worked up a prospectus, calling their new company Works Publishing, Inc., and began selling their idea to the New York members. They contacted the Cornwall Press, one of the largest book printers. Bill also contacted Dr. Bob, who consented dubiously to the venture but felt the idea should be tried out on the Board of Trustees.
So Bill “laid this information before the next Trustees’ meeting. I anticipated the reaction would be bad, and it certainly was. . .Once more the meeting adjourned without agreement. I knew we would have to go through with the deal despite all the objections.” And they did. (See Chap. 12) The first printing Of the Big Book came off the press in April, 1939.
A year later, at the April, 1940 Board Meeting, the publishing operation was brought into the fold with a resolution to turn Works Publishing, Inc. over to the Alcoholic Foundation. This was accomplished by calling in all outstanding shares at par value of $25 per share. The Big Book now belonged to A.A.-as-a-whole. Bill credits LeRoy Chipman with raising the $8,000 necessary to accomplish this.
Although Chipman, treasurer of the Rockefeller charities, helped organize the Alcoholic Foundation, he was not actually a trustee at this time. He was elected trustee in November, 1943, when the Board was enlarged to nine members. He served as treasurer until 1952, and is remembered by Dr. Jack Norris as “a real Victorian gentleman—hard to feel close to. We had to be careful of our language when Roy was around. For instance, he thought it was demeaning to call men ‘guys.'”Chipman died in 1964.
Other giants in A.A. history served as trustees in this period.
Leonard Harrison, a sociologist who was director of public affairs for the Community Service Society of New York, came to the Foundation in 1941. He was its chairman from then until 1950; and served a second term as trustee (but not as chairman) from 1953 to 1965. Bill called him “one of A.A.’s oldest and most valued friends…who saw A.A. through its frightfully wobbly time of adolescence. What his wise counsel and steady hand meant to us in that stormy period is quite beyond telling.”
Bernard B. Smith, a lawyer, came to the Board in 1944 and served as a trustee until his death in 1970. He succeeded Harrison as chairman from 1951 to 1956, and as such, chaired the St. Louis convention. Bill later called him “the architect of the service structure,” providing spiritual as well as legal direction. And “it was his skill and devotion that tipped the scales among A.A.’s trustees—nearly all of whom had grave doubts—in favor of proposing the Conference in the first place.” Bern Smith’s eloquent, wise and perceptive speeches are a precious body of A.A. literature in themselves.
Among the memorable early A.A. trustees were Horace C. (1940-48) and Herbert T. (1940-45). This was the Bert T. who “saved” the Big Book by mortgaging his tailor shop to provide the money to get it printed.
During these years the Foundation managed the pitifully small funds of the Fellowship as it began to grow. The minutes of the first Board meeting reveal the treasury consisted of $2,150—all that was left of Rockefeller’s $5,000 gift. A month later, Charles Towns of Towns Hospital donated $500. Over six years later, in January, 1945, the bank balance of the Foundation was $16,665 – plus $6,070 in the Works Publishing account. Significantly, however, there were many discussions of rejecting outside contributions as “conflicting with established practices and policies,” and the policy of “not soliciting funds” was reaffirmed…In 1946 the Board appropriated $6,000 for the new A.A. newspaper, The Grapevine.
Anticipating the Sixth Tradition, the Foundation decided against the use of the A.A. name for “commercial undertakings.” In 1946, it was reported to the Board that the Big Book had been translated into the Spanish language—the first such translation – by a Mexican immigrant laborer, Ricardo P., who had found Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland. (Ricardo had married an American girl employed as an interpreter, who helped mightily in the project!) Minutes from the following year authorize moving the “headquarters office” to 415 Lexington Avenue.
But the most traumatic and, ultimately, the most significant preoccupation of the trustees during this time was the running conflict between Bill arid the Board regarding the role of the latter; the relationship between the Foundation, the service office and the co-founders; and the need for structural change.
Alcoholics Anonymous was enjoying explosive growth in the second half of the 1940’s. Groups were multiplying, membership was increasing rapidly, and the program was beginning to spread overseas. It was boiling with change. Publicity abounded, from newspaper stories to motion pictures, and anonymity breaks were beginning to be a problem. Professionals were making inquiries at the service office arid alcoholism programs were emerging. The staff and the office were frantically trying to deal with these developments.
But the staff had no link with the trustees or the Foundation. Sometimes a staff member was invited to attend a Board meeting, but was not expected to speak, much less to provide input. According to former archivist Nell Wing, the Board “felt they were only custodians and shouldn’t take action—that they ‘were only there to keep the stove warm’ as Bill put it. They didn’t want to get into the wider arena of what was going on out in the groups. There was no linkage.”
On the other hand, Bill felt the Board relied too much on him and Dr. Bob as its link both to the office and to the groups. At the St. Louis convention, Bill explained: “To the Fellowship, its Board of Trustees was scarcely known at all. . .When death or disability took us old-timers out of the picture, where would that leave the Trustees and the Headquarters? A single blunder. . .might cause a failure of confidence that could not be repaired. Lacking the.. .support of the groups, the whole Headquarters effort might collapse completely. . . It was evident that here was a world-wide movement that had no direct access to its own principal service affairs.. .This situation had been a matter of great concern to me. .
So, in 1946, Bill submitted to the trustees a “Code of Traditions for General Headquarters,” and followed it up with a barrage of memoranda supporting its various points. These included ideas for fiscal policies, and specifically the creation of a sound reserve fund; the place of The A.A. Grapevine in the structure; and staff representation at the Board and committee meetings, with a voice in policy decisions. A 1947 memo added the most controversial proposal of all, that of having a General Service Conference to provide a linkage between the groups and the trustees as well as the headquarters office; and to bring the trustees into regular contact and direct relationship with the society.
The Board’s reaction was at first defensive and then outright negative to Bill’s suggestions. Most of the trustees wanted to keep the status quo. They were confident of their ability to handle whatever situation might arise and saw no need to change. Bill, spurred into greater urgency by Dr. Bob’s illness and feeling personal frustration, pressed harder, resulting in hot and bitter debates. As Nell recounts, “Bill felt they wanted him to be only a spiritual symbol, confined to a kind of ivory tower where he couldn’t stir things up.” The trustees resented Bill’ s over-aggressiveness.
Bill himself confesses, “Typically alcoholic, I…turned. . .passive resistance into solid opposition. A serious rift developed between me and the alcoholic members of the Board, and the situation became worse and worse. They resented my sledgehammer tactics.. .As the tempest increased, so did my blistering memorandums. One of them was an amazing composition…[which] finished with this astonishing sentence: ‘When I was in law school, the largest book I studied was one on trusts. I must say, gentlemen, that it was mostly a long and melancholy account of the malfeasances and misfeasances of boards of trustees.’ I had written this to. . . the best friends I had in the world, people who had devoted themselves to A.A. and to me without stint. Obviously I was on a dry bender of the worst possible sort.
This sizzling memorandum nearly blew the Foundation apart.” The nonalcoholic trustees were “dumbfounded,” and the old-timer alcoholic trustees hardened their opposition to the Conference plan. Four of the trustees even submitted letters of resignation; they were: LeRoy Chipman, Leonard Harrison, Bernard Smith and Horace C. Bill wrote each of them a conciliatory letter of apology, and the resignations were either withdrawn or simply not accepted at the next Board meeting.
In fact, the only support on the Board for the Conference was from Bernard Smith. However, as the dispute wore on into 1950, Chairman Leonard Harrison—even though he did not see the necessity for a Conference—appointed a trustees’ committee to study the matter with Bernard Smith as Chairman! Bill characterized this as “a most magnanimous and generous act on Leonard’s part. Bern Smith had “a remarkable faculty for persuasion and negotiation.” It took him only two meetings to convince the committee to “give the Conference a try.” The full Board voted to go along. (See Chapter 11 for a fuller history of the Conference.)
The Board was enlarged to 15 members in 1949, including Bill W. (for only one year, as it turned out) in addition to Dr. Bob. Also added were Dr. William Silkworth (who died just two years later) and Fulton Oursler, editor of Liberty magazine, who had published the first article about the new movement, “Alcoholics and God,” ten years before. And a third new nonalcoholic was Austin MacCormick, a leading Penologist, professor of criminology at the University of California, and already a devoted friend of A.A. Austin was to serve a first term of two years and then return to the Board in 1961 for a second term ending in 1976, when he was made Trustee Emeritus. An active and dedicated Board member, especially interested in the Grapevine of which he was a director for many years. Dr. Jack Norris, who was chairman the Board during almost all of Austin MacCormick’s time as trustee, remembers him not only for his devoted service but for his great warmth and wit.
At its July, 1950, meeting, the Alcoholic Foundation took an historic step by passing a resolution to no longer accept money from anyone other than members of A.A.—specifically, not from “affiliates” (which later became Al-Anon) nor from “the uninitiated” (i.e., non-A.A.-members). Also, a limit was placed on the amount of the member’s individual contribution, the formula being up to 1/10th of 1% of the annual Foundation budget. In 1950, that was about $100. Dennis Manders points out that if that formula were used in 1985, the limit on individual contributions would be nearer $7,000 rather than $500.
In October of that year, Frank Gulden, of the Gulden’s mustard family, joined the Board as a nonalcoholic trustees. He was to serve ten years, faithful in his attendance and always concerned with A.A.’s welfare but otherwise without special distinction. John L. “Dr. Jack” Norris was also invited to become a nonalcoholic trustee. At that time Associate Medical Director of Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, Dr. Jack became president of the Industrial Medicine Association and chairman of the Governor’s Committee on Alcoholism, and was eventually recognized worldwide as a medical authority on alcoholism. A giant among A.A.’s historic figures, he was to serve as a trustee for a decade, then as chairman of the Board for 17 years, and finally as Chairman Emeritus, the position he holds as this book is written. During that time, Dr. Jack compiled the amazing record of attending every Board meeting, every General Service Conference and every International Convention! In his final talk to the Conference on his retirement in 1977, Bob H., former general manager of the General Service Office, said of Dr. Jack, “Cherish him, for we will not see the likes of him again.”
Finally, on November 16, 1950, co—founder Dr. Bob died, losing a long bout with cancer.
In January, 1951, Bernard Smith took over as chairman, succeeding Leonard Harrison. That was also Dr. Jack’s first Board meeting, and he recalls being impressed with the size of A.A.’s service operation. (Over 26,000 copies of the Big Book were sold that year, and 465,000 pamphlets.) He remembers the Foundation’s meetings as “serious—very serious—and very long! They talked a lot about literature and a lot about finances—and, as you might expect, these were the first two committees of the Board to be formed.” New alcoholic trustees were Earl T., the founder of A.A. in Chicago, who had also helped Bill reduce the “long form” of the Twelve Traditions to the shorter wording that is familiar today; and Henry “Hank” C., New York, who was to become immediately involved in overseeing the headquarters office, first as a volunteer and soon afterward as its first paid manager. (See Chap. 9)
In April, the long-debated First General Service Conference of A.A. was held at the Commodore Hotel in New York (See Chap. 11) trustees met with 35 delegates from all parts of the country with Bern Smith presiding. One of the first moves of the Conference was to suggest that the Alcoholic Foundation ought to be renamed the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous. This suggestion was brought up repeatedly by the Foundation over the next several years—and other alternative names considered—and was finally made official in 1954.
A new nonalcoholic trustee elected at Conference time was Jack Alexander, writer and editor at The Saturday Evening Post who was responsible for the Post article that changed A.A. history in March, 1941. He had followed up with a second article in April, 1950. He was to serve on the Board five years.
In the summer, the Lasker Award was offered to Bill by the American Public Health Association. Bill refused the award for himself, but suggested it be given to A.A. as a whole—and the Lasker Foundation replied favorably. The trustees voted to accept the award (subject to Conference approval by mail poll of the delegates), but declined the cash grant of $1,000 that went with it. At the award ceremony in San Francisco in October, Bern Smith accepted as chairman, giving a memorable explanation of Alcoholics Anonymous in his talk. Bill added a brief thank-you.
This era saw the development of many of A.A.’s basic pamphlets. (See Chap. 12) Alcoholic trustee Bob H., an advertising agency executive, was appointed chairman of the Board’s General Service Committee, which was responsible for the operation of the headquarters office, and president of Works Publishing. Bob brought to the Foundation the problem of finding competent writing talent in the Fellowship, and in 1952 was authorized to engage Ralph B., a professional writer and public relations executive, for $500 a month for 1/3 of his time. Ralph was to perform a variety of important tasks at the office for the next decade and was present at most Board meetings.
At its October meeting, the headquarters structure was specified. The Alcoholic Foundation owned both Works Publishing and the Grapevine. The following year, the name of Works Publishing was changed to Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing Company, Inc.
The Foundation’s bank balance now stood at $156,500. However, the office still operated at a small deficit and concern was expressed that the reserve fund should be at least $200,000 and perhaps as much as $300,000. Bill worried that “we have never taken the movement through a serious depression.” He felt that one solution would be to ask the groups to forego their discount on books, but he was also afraid they would not continue to send contributions if they did not understand the need for a reserve fund.
The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions was published and work began on the second edition of the Big Book. Archibald Roosevelt, partner in an investment counseling firm and son of President Theodore Roosevelt, was elected a nonalcoholic trustee. He was attracted, Dr. Jack believed, because of an alcohol problem in his family. He served as treasurer until 1970, when he left the Board. A tall, smiling man, he is recalled as “a fun person.”
In early 1954, Bill reported to the Board that Yale University had offered him an honorary degree, but that he had declined, citing the principles set forth in both the Eleventh and Twelfth Traditions and declaring that to accept such an honor would be to set “a perilous precedent.” The title of the “Secretaries” at the headquarters office was changed to “Senior Staff” and they were invited to attend Board meetings and to participate in the discussions.
A beginning was made toward a regional structure when an opening for a Class B trustee occurred. Bill and Cliff W., trustee from Southern California, outlined a plan which divided the U.S. into five regions—Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast—from which Class B candidates should be picked in rotation from states (i.e., areas) according to their A.A. population. Canada should always be represented. The Board and the office were planning by now for the St. Louis convention. Throughout the late forties and the fifties, the Board was dealing with matters relating to the spread of the movement overseas (See Chaps. 7 & 8) and translation of the Big Book into other languages. It was also receiving reports of progress on the second edition, to be introduced at the St. Louis convention.
Bernard Smith was urging all possible speed in completing the second edition because he was worried about possibly inadequate copyright coverage of the first edition. Bill was less concerned and in less of a hurry. The following year, when the second edition had been published, the Board discussed how to dispose of the remaining copies of the first edition. Among the ideas proposed were to give them away to prisons, hospitals and A.A. offices abroad; offer them through jobbers to second-hand bookstores; or store them away for a year and then have a “fire sale.” Bern Smith suggested that some copies be saved for posterity, for “they will be valuable some day”!
Also in 1955 we find the first discussion of a ratio change on the Board—the issue which was to be pursued doggedly by Bill, debated endlessly by the trustees, and wrangled over by the delegates to ten General Service Conferences before it was finally resolved in 1966. In a 1958 letter to Harrison Trice (see below), he gave the following reasons he believed it was necessary to have a majority of alcoholic trustees:
-The increased press of work with which we have no business to saddle the nonalcoholic members;
-Proper determination of A.A. policy and its administration which the nonalcoholics have disclaimed ability to handle;
-Need for wider representation geographically of alcoholic trustees;
-It is unsound psychologically for a movement of our present size and maturity to take a childish and fearful view that a majority of alcoholics cannot be trusted to sit on our most important board.
The first two points were the basis of Board discussions in 1955, and in an effort to shift some of the work from the nonalcoholic trustees and deal with policy matters before they reached the Board, a General Policy Committee was formed. Its members included Class B trustees, senior staff members and other alcoholic appointees. In addition, the Board discussed various ways a trustee ratio change might be effected, and voted to send these to the delegates in preparation for the next conference.
Two actions taken by the Board to increase the authority of the Nominating Committee are interesting from an historical viewpoint. They voted that candidates being considered for corporate directors of the publishing operation or the Grapevine should also be submitted to the Nominating Committee. Similarly, candidates for the General Service Staff should first be considered by the incumbent staff, then by the publishing Board, and finally approved by the Nominating Committee. However, these actions were not fully implemented until nearly thirty years later. (See Ad Hoc Comm., 1983, below)
The era from 1955 to 1960 was one of exciting growth and maturing for Alcoholics Anonymous, with new developments on every front. In addition to the Big Book and The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age joined the hardcover books in 1957, and new pamphlets were rapidly being added. A.A. was spreading to other continents and other countries at a dizzying rate, literature was being translated and published in other languages, and in some overseas locations service boards and offices were being formed. A.A. appeared frequently in the press, on television and in motion pictures—and anonymity breaks had to be dealt with. A.A. was increasingly recognized by professional people as alcoholism received more attention, and in 1956 the American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease. A.A. conventions and get-togethers were becoming popular – not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well. The General Service Board and its Committees were dealing with these matters at the Board’s quarterly meetings which sometimes went far into the night. (And they are chronicled in the appropriate chapters elsewhere in this history.)
Two notable nonalcoholic trustees joined the Board in 1957. Harrison Trice, Ph.D., a professor in the school of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, served for 12 years. He was an active Board member, entering into discussions with enthusiasm. “often,” says Dr. Jack, “Harry was a burr under my saddle. He was opinionated and I recall several occasions when he would bring up a piece of business that had already been decided, as if it was a new idea of his.” And Dr. Harry Tiebout served 11 years, until his death in April, 1966. Bill called him, “Our first friend in psychiatry, who very early began to use A.A. in his own practice, and whose good humor, humility, penetrating insight and courage have meant much to us all.” Not only did Tiebout endorse A.A. personally, he helped get Bill invited to read papers about A.A. first at the Medical Society of New York and later at the American Psychiatric Association, “thus hastening the acceptance of the then little-known A.A. by physicians.”
On a more personal level, Dr. Tiebout had given the A.A. co-founder psychotherapeutic help in the mid-1940s and later entered into a lengthy and heated correspondence with him debating, the manifestations of maturity and immaturity in the Fellowship itself. It was Dr. Tiebout’s contention that Bill’s repeated protestations as to the “maturity” and “coming of age” of A.A. were themselves an indication of immaturity. From this base of belief, Tiebout was opposed to both the Conference plan and, later, the proposed ratio change (though, as a trustee, he eventually voted for it). In the minds of many, Dr. Tiebout’s greatest contribution to A.A. were his classic papers: “Alcoholics Anonymous – An Experiment of Nature”, “The Act of Surrender in the Therapeutic Process”, and “Conversion as a Psychological Phenomenon.”
Also in 1957, the size of the Board was increased to 15 members – eight nonalcoholic and seven alcoholic. At the instigation of one of the latter, a review of Bill’s royalty arrangement on the books he had written was undertaken. (Now devoting full time to Alcoholics Anonymous, he had no other income.) The process dragged on over two years, but a final agreement was drawn up and approved by the Conference providing royalties on the three existing “for the life of the copyrights” and on any others he might write in the future.
Finances in general continued to be a constant concern. The service office operated at a deficit or, with the help of publishing income, with a marginal profit. Still, the Reserve Fund was growing modestly, to the point that an Investment Subcommittee of the Finance and Budgetary Committee was formed to insure it was properly handled. In one discussion, Archie Roosevelt complained of the difficulty of budgeting in A.A. because of the uncertainty of group contributions on the income side and the uncertainty of the Conference taking actions that might require expenditures on the expense side. (The same difficulty was being lamented in the mid-1980s.) A way to augment group contributions with personal contributions was introduced; namely, the “Birlthday Plan” in which a member was encouraged to donate annually a dollar for each year of his sobriety, to express his gratitude as well as to help carry the message to others worldwide.
The idea for the Birthday Plan had come out of Oklahoma (See Chap. 5 for full account) through its delegate to the General Service Conference. So much attention was focused on finances that E.D. “Icky” S., a class B trustee, placed a written statement in the record deploring that after a delegate returns from the Conference, he is thought of only in terms of MONEY and PROMOTION (sic). “Take him out of the position of Fund Raiser!” asked Icky of the Board.
Early in this period, Bill reported to the Board he was gathering “lots of historic recordings of old timers” and “getting the files in shape for the future, so that the story of A.A. cannot be garbled”—the beginnings of the Archives! And the office began publishing the Exchange Bulletin, later renamed 4-5-9. The A.A. publishing Board was authorized to act with regard to foreign editions of the Big Book—a responsibility which had occupied considerable time at General Service Board meetings.
The Board wrestled with many policy decisions. For example, “Drug addict groups are not to be registered or listed in the Directory.” (Bill had also written an article on “Problems Other Than Alcohol” in the Grapevine later to be printed as a pamphlet.) For another example, how to respond to requests to add delegates to the Conference. Under considerable pressure based on A.A. population, an additional delegate was approved for Southern California; however, it was decided any expansion of the Conference should be the prerogative of the Conference Admissions Committee, and should be approached with extreme caution. Considerable thought was given by Bern Smith and others to the relationship between the trustees and the Conference. Can the trustees request postponement of final action on a matter they haven’t had a chance to consider separately? Should Board members voice their opinions on the Conference floor? Etc. (This relationship was later to dealt with in The Twelve Concepts for World Service. Another policy statement articulated the principle of “cooperation but not affiliation” with alcoholism agencies and treatment centers. The Board even raised the question as to the possibility of hiring a male staff member, and decided to leave it up to the General Service Committee. They also suggested that preference should be given to an applicant “out of the New York area.”
The pulling and hauling over the trustee ratio change continued throughout this period. The Conference, which was proving to be unexpectedly conservative, kept turning down Bill’s proposal or tabling it to be considered by the next Conference. At the January 1958 meeting of the Board, a “feeler” was put out by Class B trustee Herb M., who was to become General Manager of the service office two years later. After discussing the case for the ratio change, he moved, “This Board feels it could function with a ratio of more A.A.’s than nonalcoholics and will take such action if and when the Conference requests.” The vote of those present was three in favor, three opposed, and three abstaining. Later that same year, Dr. Jack Norris drafted a full-page, single-space summary of the pros and cons of the question, neatly balanced in two columns, which the Board voted to send to the groups. This prompted Harrison Trice to declare “the trustee ratio issue has been blown out of all proportion and has created a furor among the groups that is distracting us from our primary purpose.” To which John L., a Class B trustee from Pennsylvania, replied that the issue was “close to the heart of all A.A. members.”
A measure of the recognition enjoyed by Alcoholics Anonymous by this time—and of the attention it was receiving in the press – was the offer by TIME magazine to feature Bill Wilson on its cover. This was an honor usually reserved for heads of state, war heroes and similar famous faces. Bill first received a letter from Milton Alexander, an editor at TIME and brother of Jack Alexander, inviting him to lunch at the editorial offices so they could learn more about A.A. Bill went with Herb M., chairman of the trustees’ Public Information Committee, who remembers what transpired. They met with Alexander and Henry Grunwald, editor of TIME, who talked briefly about how well they thought of A.A. and said they wanted to do a story and furthermore wanted to make it a cover story, obviously confident Bill would be thrilled. “We hit it head on,” recalls Herb. “Bill did most of the talking.” Bill explained the anonymity Tradition and why he couldn’t have his picture appear. “It certainly must have been a horrible temptation to Bill,” says Herb, “because he wasn’t lacking in ego! And it wasn’t easy to un-sell them. They used all the arguments: ‘You’re not silent, are you? You don’t go around wearing a mask.’ They even offered to show only the back of his head on the cover.” Bill and Herb suggested other art themes as cover possibilities, but in the end the whole offer fell through. Herb says, “When he came out, Bill was feeling pretty good about it—proud that he had seen a Tradition at work, a real test and he had come through it with no hesitation on his part.”
Bill was to explain later, “For all I know, a piece of this sort could have brought A.A. a thousand members—possibly a lot more. Therefore, when I turned that article down, I denied recovery to an awful lot of alcoholics. But I went well over on the conservative side because.. . the piece would have created a clear image of me as a person. This would have created for the future, I am sure, a temptation in our power-driving people to get like pieces—presently with full names and pictures. . .A dangerous precedent.”
In July, 1959, the name of A.A. Publishing was changed to Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. A.A.W.S. was now responsible for the publishing function and for the operation of the General Service Office, as the “headquarters” was now known.
During the last three years of the decade, the Board was almost continuously involved with planning A.A.’s 25th Anniversary celebration, centering around the forthcoming Convention in Long Beach, California. In this respect, the 1960 Convention was different from those that had preceded it. The 1945 and 1950 Conventions in Cleveland and even the 1955 Convention in St.Louis were all the responsibility of local A.A.’s who made the initial decision to have the gatherings, made the meeting arrangements, handled the registration and put on the program. This time, however, the Board decided it would take over. The Southern California A.A.’s issued the invitation and helped with the local arrangements, but the program, the press relations and the finances were the responsibility of the Board – with the exception of a spectacular evening of entertainment featuring Hollywood stars, which was organized and staged by the California A.A.’s. (See Chap. 21)
The actual work prior to the Convention was delegated largely to Hank G., general manager of the office, and Hazel H., Convention secretary. They made one or two advance trips to Long Beach, working with local A.A.’s mostly by phone and letter, to save the cost of travel; and then, on the last trip west to set up the Convention, Hank suffered a ruptured appendix and was in intensive care until the Convention was over. The Board called on Allan B., a Class B trustee from Stamford, Connecticut, and executive vice president of the National Better Business Bureau, to take over in the emergency. Much of the load also fell on Dennis Manders and Hazel R. “The trouble was, all the contacts and all the details were in Hank’s head,” recalls Dennis. “So everything was dumped into Allan’s lap and we were having meetings until two, three, four o’clock in the morning trying to piece things together. Allan did a tremendous job.”
Later that year, Hank C., having recovered from his illness, was invited to Great Britain to tour the new General Service Office for the U.K., the London Intergroup and other service centers. He flew to England in October, and on the 26th of that month he died in a plane crash. Five days later, the Board expressed its shock and regret in a resolution prepared by Bern Smith. Herb M. was asked to take over as manager of the General Service Office at least until the next meeting of the Board three months hence.
The decade of the sixties for A.A. was a time of reaching out to the still-suffering alcoholic in different segments of the public through Public Information activities and through improved relations with the professional community. It was a time of concern over the misunderstandings about A.A. by the outside world and the first surveys to learn more about ourselves. It was a time of helping and guiding service structures in overseas countries, and a time of concern for hard-to-reach alcoholics and minority groups here at home. It was a time when A.A. had to deal with caustic criticism in the public press.
The Board was in the forefront of these and other challenges—and triumphs—during an eventful ten years.
In 1961, Dr. Jack Norris was elected Chairman of the Generals Service Board – the position he was to occupy until 1978. Austin MacCormick returned to the Board for a second term, which ended in 1976. The remaining Class A’s were Leonard Harrison, Bern Smith, Archie Roosevelt, Harry Tiebout, Harrison Trice and Ivan Underwood. Underwood, a vice – president of Republic Steel Co., traveled the world on business and was most helpful in establishing communications with A.A. in other countries, particularly in literature matters. He served as trustee from 1956 to 1965, and even after he retired, maintained a lively interest in A.A. affairs.
Herb M. resigned as trustee to accept the managership of the General Service Office on a permanent basis. The remaining Class B’s were legendary. The “in – town” trustees were Allan B.; Sumner C., past president of the New York Intergroup; and Al S., jack-of¬-all-work for both the Grapevine and G.S.0, author of the Responsibility Declaration. The “area trustees”, as they were then called, were founding fathers of A.A.: Dave B. from Quebec; Pat C. from Minnesota; and Tom S. from Florida, who later was the force behind establishing the A.A. Archives.
Ebby T., ever since he had carried the message to Bill in 1934, had difficulty staying sober. Between relatively short intervals of sobriety, he had long drinking episodes, sometimes showing up at the office drunk, looking for money from Bill. Through the years, Bill remained unswervingly loyal, always concerned over Ebby’s welfare, always referring to him as his sponsor, supporting him financially. Now, to ensure that Ebby would be cared for in case anything happened to himself, Bill asked the Board to approve a $100 per month stipend for his friend. They voted to do so, increasing it to $200 per month the following year, which Ebby received for the rest of his life.
As French was the first language of the Province of Quebec, in Canada, a French Literature Committee was formed there to translate and publish the Big Book and other A.A. literature. As it was, in effect, a publishing subsidiary of A.A. World Services, Inc. – and yet was more nearly a part of the general service structure in Quebec—the Board had to negotiate a working arrangement agreeable to all parties. This task began in 1961 with a basic document setting forth the relationship but problems recurred over the next fifteen years – even as literature in French continued to be produced and A.A. membership exploded among French-speaking Canadians.
Under Board direction, through its Public Information Committee, the first public service spots about Alcoholics Anonymous were produced for radio and television. A.A. members, filmed in shadow to protect their anonymity, told one-minute stories of their experiences; and in a final spot, Dr. Jack appeared full-face to tell about the program. He likes to tell of an associate at Eastman Kodak stopping him and saying, “Saw you on, TV last night, Jack. You’re the only one who wouldn’t admit it!” Also, professional exhibits were prepared and sent to conventions of professionals in various parts of the country, where they were manned by local A.A. volunteers.
In October of 1961, the Board received from Bill his Twelve Concepts for World Service. Except for some changes to keep the debate on the proposed ratio change from being carried into this book, the trustees approved the book to be submitted to the General Service Conference. And Bern Smith was given the assignment of drafting a new royalty agreement with Bill, to be sure Lois would be provided for in the event of his death.
Among the policy decisions coming from the Board were to study the formation of a separate Professional Relations Committee; and to help overseas A.A. financially in translating and publishing literature, by means of a revolving fund to be reimbursed through the sale of the literature.
The General Service Board was enlarged in 1962 to provide for more regional representation. It was enlarged from 15, 8 Class A’s and 7 Class B’s; to 19, 10 Class A’s and 9 Class B’s. Within the Class B’s, 4 continued to be General Service Trustees from the New York area, but regional trustees were increased from 3 to 5.
In addition to prominent and favorable magazine articles and television programs on A.A., two events happened in 1962, which gave the Fellowship an even larger boost. Like this country’s Jack Alexander years before, a French journalist named Joseph Kessel heard of Alcoholics Anonymous and spent several months visiting A.A. in America. This resulted in a series of articles the Paris newspaper, France Soir, and afterward in a book. And like Alexander’s Saturday Evening Post article, Kessel’s articles and book gave A.A. a push not only in France, but, through translations, in Germany and elsewhere throughout Europe. His book was translated into English under the title The Road Back and was popular in the U.S. too. The other publicity event was Days of Wine and Roses, which had been an extremely successful “Playhouse 90” TV drama back in 1958. Now, with help and Consultation from A.A., it was made into an even more successful motion picture, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as an alcoholic couple. It portrayed A.A. as the solution.
What should A.A.’s relationship be to the Calix Society? That was the question brought to the Board at this time. Calix was an organization of Roman Catholic recovered alcoholics who practiced the A.A. program, but wished to remain separate within their own church. Bill, always permissive, favored cooperation with Calix. Dr. Tiebout agreed. Harrison Trice, supported by several others, was opposed to any relationship at all. Bill and the moderates won out, leading to some ambivalence and confusion that has persisted ever since.
In February, 1963, an article by Arthur Cain, entitled “Alcoholics Anonymous—Cult or Cure?,” appeared in Harpers magazine. In it, the author, a psychologist, sharply flayed A.A. as being “one of America’s most fanatical religious cults ” In scathing terms, he accused it of being “pompous”, “intolerant”, “dogmatic” and “anti-science,” among other things. The immediate reaction of many within the Fellowship was indignation, anger and a desire for vengeance. When the swelling demand reached New York for Bill and the Board “do something”, Bill recommended they do nothing. He counseled them that the best response to criticism was no response at all. Later, in a Grapevine article explaining his position, Bill said “our critics can be our friends” by forcing us to take a look at our faults. (The Board added a Workshop to the next Conference, to “take the Fellowship’s inventory.) The following year, another highly critical article took aim at the service office and the Board—this time by Jerome E., a former editor of the Grapevine, who had become disenchanted and embittered. In keeping with the Tenth Tradition—”the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy”—Bill and the Board again remained calm and made no response. Time has proved the wisdom of this policy. Neither article had any apparent effect on the continued growth and health of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Fellowship is several times larger today than it was in 1963 and 1964, while the names of Arthur Cain and Jerome E. have long since faded into oblivion.
A milestone of sorts was reached in July, 1963, when the A.A. Grapevine repaid to the General Fund a loan of $11,000 which it had received ten years before.
Two important trustees’ committees were established. The Public Information Committee was made a full standing committee instead of a subcommittee of the Policy Committee, as it had been previously. This was in part a reflection of Bill’s lessening involvement at the office, where he had personally handled A.A.’s relations with the press for 25 years. Also, an International Committee was formed to help the Board deal with special problems and needs of A.A.’s abroad.
At two successive Board meetings, discussions took place as to what rotation plan would be appropriate for Class A trustees. The question was referred to the 1964 Conference, which came back with its own suggestion. And in July of that year, a rotation plan was approved. It specified that present Class A trustees would not be affected, but that new nonalcoholic trustees would serve maximum of three three – year terms – with an exception made to enable the Chairman to serve a maximum of six years additional, from the time he was elected.
The Finance Committee set the limit of the Reserve Fund at one year’s operating expenses, or $450,000, whichever was arrived at first. A pension plan for G.S.O. and Grapevine employees was also approved, and severance pay for same was set at four weeks’ salary.
The name of Bob H. was approved by the Nominating Committee as a director of A.A.W.S.
According to reports of the regional trustees, affirmed by the staff, conventions, conferences, roundups and get-togethers were growing around the country—and even abroad—by leaps and bounds. Founders’ Day in Akron drew over 2,000 and big crowds were reported in California, the Northwest and the Southeast. Big meetings were being held by doctors in A.A. and by young people. (See Chap. 19). And the International Committee was reporting activities in every corner of the globe: literature distribution centers in Columbia, S.A., and in El Salvador and other Central American countries; a General Service Board in England; advice on structure needed in West Germany; and plans for literature distribution in Australia, New Zealand and India.
Three freshman Class A trustees joined the Board in 1965. Dr. Travis Dancey, a psychiatrist from Montreal, was the first nonalcoholic trustee from Canada. A long-time friend of A.A., he had tried to help Dave B. without success. After Dave found A.A. through writing the New York service office, Dancey worked with him as Dave spread the A.A. message in Quebec. He was to serve as trustee until 1974. Dr. Vincent Dole, a medical researcher at Rockefeller University, developed the Methadone treatment for heroin addiction. He served with distinction until 1976, and is perhaps remembered best for his brilliant and often quoted articulation of the importance of A.A.’s singleness of purpose. Robert W.P. Morse, executive vice-president and treasurer of the Dime Savings Bank in New York, was elected a trustee and treasurer of the General Service Board, succeeding Archie Roosevelt on the latter’s retirement. The name of Bayard P. is also noted by the Nominating Committee as a new director on the A.A.W.S. Board.
Debate continued among the trustees and delegates on the proposed ratio-change, but the ultimate resolution crept a little closer as the Board suggested that a ratio of 2\3 alcoholics and 1\3 nonalcoholics be maintained, and the Conference agreed to study the suggestion with a view to voting on it the next year. By then, recalls Dr. Jack, “we had spent an awful lot of time and energy on that. Bill would sit on the couch outside the Conference meeting room and would collar anyone who would listen and try to persuade them. Finally I said to him, ‘They’re not reacting to your ideas—they’re reacting to your method. Let me handle it. ‘ . . . Then, all I did at the [Conference] meeting was to say that the alcoholic trustees have come in from the movement. They’ve been great people; they’ve been very solid. There’s never been an action on the Board where there’s been a division between the A.A.’s and the non-A.A.’s ‘s. . I said, ‘Give it a try. If it doesn’t work, we can change it.’ And it was that easy.” The Conference took a vote and at its meeting immediately following the conference, the Board unanimously accepted the Advisory Action of the Conference “that the Board be increased to 21, seven nonalcoholic and 14 alcoholic.”
It was a victory for Bill. But he shared his satisfaction with the person who had been especially helpful to him behind thee scenes – Herb M. In a letter to Herb dated November 11, 1964, he said, “You cannot imagine how happy and grateful I am respecting the outcome of the last Trustees meeting when the decision was taken that A.A. should try to go on its own at the level of the Board…Without your good offices, your skill and your good will, nothing might have been accomplished.. .I know that A.A. of the future is going to be very greatly in debt to you for this contribution…during a difficult time in our pilgrim’s progress.'”
The new structure of the Board called for one trustee from each of six U.S. regions and two Canadian regions; plus a Trustees-at-Large from each of the countries. The four General Service Trustees from the New York area (two each from the A.A.W.S. and Grapevine corporate boards) were not affected. Nor were the seven nonalcoholic trustees, as the Conference had affirmed the Board’s rotation plan for them, including no change in the present Class A’s. But how to make the new Board structure work seemed like an insoluble puzzle. Given that the terms of the sitting regional trustees would not be touched, how could their replacements plus the additional Class B’s be phased in? It was important that as few trustees as possible rotate out and be replaced in any given year, so as to provide for maximum continuity. Again the job was given to Herb M., who recalls, “It looked impossible. I never worked on anything harder than that fool chart!” He accomplished it by staggering regional trustees’ terms—some serving three years, some two, and one only one year – so that by 1974 everyone would be back to the full four-year term with a minimum of disruption to the Board. Not only working out the chart but then persuading the Fellowship to abide by it was considered an act of genius.
At about this time, Bill entered into a consuming personal enthusiasm which almost immediately thrust him into a confrontational position with the General Service Board—sometimes referred to as “the great niacin flap.” Earlier, Bill had met two English psychiatrists working with alcoholics and schizophrenics in Canada; their names were Dr. Humphry Osrnond and Dr. Abram Hoffer. Now he learned that they believed they were having some success in treating alcoholics by giving them niacin, which is vitamin B-3. It seemed to lessen the effects of alcohol withdrawal. Bill apparently leaped to the conclusion that his doctor friends had found the answer to the “allergy” Dr. Silkworth had talked about; i.e., the physical component of alcoholism. Bill explained that the “allergy” was really a disturbance in the alcoholic’s blood chemistry; specifically, low blood sugar. Osmond and Hoffer thought that niacin could prevent this drop in blood sugar.
Bill grew wildly enthusiastic over this idea. He read the literature, pored over the studies and took large doses of vitarnin B-3 himself. He professed getting great benefit from it. He then took it upon himself to bring the work to the attention of the medical profession and to crusade among his thousands of admirers and followers in A.A. He threw his organizing skills and his energy into this new project with the zeal he had brought to the infant A.A. program 30 years earlier.
Frank R., a regional trustee from Massachusetts, tells about being cornered by Bill on the Sunday evening of a Board weekend in October, 1967. Bill talked about B-3 all through their dinner together. “He invited me up to his room afterward,” says Frank, and is promoting me. I’m just listening, very patient. He’s got medical papers and he goes clear back to ancient times to say when they invented the wheel, they didn’t keep it to themselves. And when we found a way to stay sober, we didn’t keep it to ourselves. And we shouldn’t keep this new thing to ourselves.”
However, Bill’s promotion of his new enthusiasm through A.A. members soon began to backfire. Niacin advocates began talking about it at A.A. meetings, and those opposed to it were using the meetings as forums for arguments. By the time the controversy reached the Board, the question was not so much the efficacy of niacin as what to do about Bill’s behavior. Many felt, with justification, that Bill was using his privileged position as A.A.’s co-founder to promote a personal view. (Others insisted he was sincerely trying to help his fellow alcoholics. Bayard P. was one of these, who at Bill’s urging began taking large doses of B-3 in the mid-’60s and has continued ever since, with beneficial results.) Most agreed that Bill was clearly violating his own Sixth Tradition, that A.A. ought never endorse or lend the A.A. name to any outside enterprise; and the Tenth Tradition, that A.A.’s name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
The trustees realized they could not prevent Bill from personally endorsing and promoting niacin; but they felt they had to insist that he not use his position as A.A.’s co-founder nor mix this new project up with A.A. Dr. Jack, as chairman, had the task of trying to explain the Board’s position to Bill. “When I knew I was right,” says Dr. Jack, “I didn’t have any trouble talking to him like a Dutch uncle.”
The Board adopted a resolution requiring that Bill keep his identification with B-3 apart from G.S.O. operations and the A.A. program; that all inquiries about B-3 coming to the office be told this is not an A.A. matter and referred to an office in Pleasantville N.Y.; and that Bill not use G.S.O. stationary in B 3 correspondence nor use any G.S.O employee (i.e., his secretary, Nell Wing) to help. The 1967 Conference also approved this Resolution. This pretty much ended the “great niacin flap,” but it did not end Bill’s enthusiasm for it which continued until his death.
The International Convention which took place in Toronto, Canada, in July, 1965, was again an important activity of the Board. The first such event held in Canada, it involved arrangements and liaison with A.A.’s in that country, handled largely by Herb M. An impressive crowd of about 9,000 attended, and 30 countries were represented. Ralph B. handled the press room. Dr. Jack seemed to be everywhere at once, at press conferences, shepherding Bill and Lois, speaking, and chairing big meetings of the Convention—a responsibility which he shared with Bernard Smith. Nearly all the trustees – along with the staff—took part in the panel meetings (at which 12 distinguished nonalcoholic guests spoke), the 12 workshops and 12 alkathons that comprised the program. (For full account, see Chap. 21)
One of the significant steps taken by the Board during the late ’60s was to undertake research of two kinds: first, to discover what the general public thought about A.A. and A.A. members; and second, to survey the Fellowship to learn about ourselves – what was our breakdown by age and gender and occupation, how long had we been sober, what brought us to A.A., how often do we attend meetings, and other data not previously known. This research, done through the trustees’ Public Information Committee, was spearheaded by Bayard P., administrative vice-president of one of the largest New York advertising agencies. Brilliant and forceful, Bayard became a general service trustee in 1968, but as a director of the A.A.W.S. Board serving on the P.I. Committee for two years previously, he had exerted considerable influence.
The survey of the general public was done by telephone, using the agency’s WATS lines at night. Volunteers, trained by professional researchers, made random calls across the country, asking a predetermined set of questions. This yielded a scientific sample accurate to plus-or-minus 5%. By this method, it was found that although the majority of the people had a generally good opinion of A.A., they had negative feelings about A.A. members, characterizing them as being “neurotic,” “failures,” “weak willed,” etc. However, the majority of the people did not know any A.A. members. It was found that only about 25% knew someone in A.A., but these people attributed positive characteristics to them.
The second phase of the research, the survey of the Fellowship itself, was done by having the delegates to the Conference distribute a quantity of printed questionnaires to about 5% of the groups in their areas, to be answered voluntarily and anonymously. This survey, conducted in l968, elicited a 90% response, with a total of over 11,000 replies! A delegate, Prof. Jack M., who just happened to be director of the computer center at Western Michigan University, volunteered to write a computer program and analyze the questionnaires. (Jack M. was elected a regional trustee in 1971, and continued to analyze the succeeding triennial survey questionnaires until his retirement from the university in 1980.)
Among the valuable data revealed by the survey were the following: One in four members was female. In age, 57% of the members were between 30 and 49; 30% between 50 and 64; and the remainder either under 30 or over 65. At a typical meeting, 38% of those present had less than a year’s sobriety; 34% were sober 1 to 5 years; 13%, 6 to 10 years; and the rest, longer. But most significant to Bayard was the information on what had influenced the member most in bringing him or her to A.A. About 15% credited newspapers, magazines, radio or TV; another 12% said doctors; smaller percentages were accounted for by the clergy, social workers, hospitals; but by far the largest number—55%—had been influenced most by another A.A. member.
“Therefore,” concluded Bayard, “if our largest single means of entry (an A.A. member) was available to only 25% of the public (as revealed by the telephone research), that indicated that we should do something to make A.A. members more visible without breaking their anonymity. That brought us to the next step, which was to prepare a ‘white paper’ citing these findings and saying we had an obligation to be un-anonymous at the private level—to doctors, to lawyers, to ministers, to personal friends, to anyone who could be a multiplier in terms of being exposed to people who might need A.A.” This paper, brought through the P.I Committee, was approved by the General Service Board and then by the 1970 Conference.
Although the telephone survey of the general public’s opinion of A.A. has not been repeated, the membership surveys have been repeated at three-year intervals ever since 1968. The results have been reported in detail by Dr. Jack Norris at three professional conferences, and the results have always been announced through a press release. A popular, illustrated summary of the findings are published each time in a leaflet entitled The A.A. Member. Succeeding surveys have proved particularly valuable in spotting trends, such as: By 1983, females accounted for better than one in three A.A. members. Young people made up nearly a fifth of the membership. Treatment centers had become a significant source of members, though the largest single influence was still another A.A. member.
In a single week at the end of March and beginning of April, 1966, A.A. lost three historic figures: Ebby T., who died sober living at a rehab outside Albany, N.Y.; “the incomparable Sister Ignatia” (as Bill called her), who – first with Dr. Bob in Akron and later at a hospital in Cleveland—helped more than 10,000 drunks, and Dr. Harry Tiebout.
That same year, Bob H. was elected a General Service Trustee. The following year, he resigned in order to take over as General Manager of G.S.O. the next year, replacing Herb. M., who resigned. Also in 1968, Milton Maxwell, Ph.D., a sociologist, director of the Summer School on Alcoholism at Rutgers University and long time friend of A.A., was elected to the corporate board of the Grapevine. And from the Grapevine board Bob P. was elected a General Service Trustee and a director on the A.A.W.S. board as well. Because of continuing friction between the Grapevine and G S 0, the General Service Board had decided to see if the situation would be improved by having one trustee serve on both corporate boards at the same time However, when Bob P rotated off four years later, the experiment was dropped.
The late ’60s were marked by the Board’s turning its attention to ways to carry the A.A. message more effectively to hard-to-reach alcoholics among minorities and handicapped. Efforts were made to encourage blacks to attend white A.A. meetings or to start groups of their own. More literature was translated and published in the Spanish language for Hispanics in the U.S. To reach less educated alcoholics, two pamphlets were developed in comic-book style, one aimed at males, the other at females. The Big Book was offered in braille to reach the blind, and ways were explored to help the hearing-impaired.
As Bill’s health began to fail from emphysema, the Board approved the making of a 16mm film, “Bill’s Own Story.” Shot at Bill and Lois’s home, Stepping Stones, it was strictly a home – movie in quality; and to conform to the anonymity Tradition, its showing was limited by Conference action to within A.A. only. It was followed up two years later with “Bill Discusses the Twelve Traditions” in the same style and with the same restrictions. Although both films run long and are of poor quality with sound tracks that are hard to hear, they have been a staple at A.A. conventions, conferences and other get-togethers and have been shown thousands of times in the decades since they were made. A collection of Bill’s thoughts and words on a wide variety of subjects was begun, to be published as a book, “The A.A. Way of Life” (later retitled, “As Bill Sees It.”) Bill selected excerpts from the Big Book, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Grapevine articles and letters, with the help of Janet G. in the Grapevine office.
The usefulness of the Policy Committee began to be questioned. It had evolved over the years into a “town-meeting” type of gathering which met on Sunday afternoon of each Board weekend and reviewed all the Board business including all other committee reports in detail—thus effectively duplicating the agenda of the Board meeting itself which followed either on Sunday evening or, later, on Monday morning.
Two new committees were formed in 1970: the Professional Relations Committee, spun-off from the Public Information Committee, reflecting the greatly increased workload in this area, and a Long-Range Planning Committee.
Interestingly, the Board had preliminary discussions in 1968 of introducing electronic data processing (EDP) at G.S.O., and even appropriated $20,000 to be available to the A.A.W.S. Board to explore the possibility. However, nine years were to pass before a computer was actually in operation. (See Chap. 9) Meanwhile, in 1969, the Board decided to move G.S.O. from 305 E. 45th St., where the rent was being doubled, to a new location at 468 Park Ave., South.
That same year, the first World Service Meeting was held in October, in New York City. Bill had presented the idea of an international conference two years before, and the Board had given its enthusiastic approval. Now, some trustees made presentations before the world delegates on their service responsibilities, and had an opportunity to share with them at a reception. As a result of the formation of the WSM, the trustees’ International Committee was judged to be redundant and was dissolved (only to be reactivated in 1978).
Robert Morse resigned as treasurer of the Board in 1970, and was replaced by Arthur Miles. Like his predecessor, Miles was vice president and treasurer of the Dime Savings Bank in New York. For eight years he was to bring to the Board not only sound and shrewd financial management but a lively and entertaining sense of humor as well.
The 1970 International Convention in Miami, Florida, was attended by 11,000, including the largest contingents from overseas, especially from Latin America. The trustees, as always, chaired many of the 75 sessions, and helped in other ways. Bernard Smith was the main speaker on Saturday night. But for the Board, it was a trying time. Bill was scheduled to make two major talks and otherwise participate a number of times over the four days, but was so ill that one appearance after another had to be cancelled, with someone else stepping in at the last moment. Dr. Jack and Bob H. in particular spent much of their time in Bill’s hotel room apprising him of what was going on downstairs and protecting him from the membership. On Sunday morning, Bill appeared briefly – his last public appearance.
Only three weeks after his return from the Convention, Bernard Smith died of a heart attack on August 1, 1970. That same day, Bill was flown back to Stepping Stones from the Miami hospital where he had remained. He promptly got pneumonia, from which he never fully recovered. On oxygen constantly now, he began to have hallucinations. He had day and night nurses in addition to constant care from Lois and Nell Wing. By November, he was bedridden. Lois had to read his farewell message at the annual “Bill’s Birthday Dinner” in New York. In a final, futile effort, he was taken back to the Miami hospital in January in a chartered Learjet, accompanied by Lois and Nell. They arrived on January 24—Lois and Bill’s 53rd wedding anniversary. At 11:30 that night he died.
At G.S.O., an emergency plan that had been set up by Bob H. was immediately activated. All the people who should be notified had been listed according to the method to be used—some by phone, some by telegram, some by letter. The names were assigned to staff members, employees and volunteers who went into action when the word came. On Tuesday, January 26, a lengthy obituary complete with Bill’s full name and picture appeared on the front ~ page of the New York Times, carried over to the inside.
On February 14, simultaneous memorial services for Bill were attended by tens of thousands of A.A.’s. They were held in New York City at St. John the Divine; in Washington, D.C., at the National Cathedral; in London, at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields; in Montreal, at Notre Dame Cathedral; in Palm Beach, at Bethesda by the Sea; in Aruba, at the Sacred Heart Church – all crowded with grateful alcoholics who traced their sobriety to this man. Months later, in October, a memorial service was held at Bristol Cathedral in England to coincide with the First European Convention (see Chap XX) Travers C, who convened both events, recalls that Bob H., from G.S.O. in New York, delivered an unforgettable eulogy to an estimated 2,000 people “This was the largest crowd ever gathered in the cathedral since it was built about 1400,” he says.
After recovering from the initial shock, perhaps the first reaction of most of the trustees and most of the members was, “what will happen now? Will A.A. survive without Bill?” In actual fact, in the words of Dr. Jack, “Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t miss a beat.” with the service structure and the Conference firmly in place, with a strong and dedicated General Service Board of trustees, with an experienced and effective General Service Office—and above all, with the Steps, the Traditions and the Concepts to follow – A.A. not only survived, it dried its collective tears after the memorial services were over and launched upon a decade of unparalleled growth, robust health and unaccustomed harmony.
The decade of the ’70s saw increased interest in service. The Concepts, largely ignored while Bill was alive, began to be studied seriously; at A.A. conferences and conventions, workshops on the Concepts drew interested crowds. New groups registered at G.S.O. at the rate of 10 to 15 per day, and many existing meetings were bulging at the walls. Literature sales reached new records every year; while it had taken 34 years to sell the first million copies of the Big Book (1939 to 1973), it took only five years (1973 to 1978) to sell the second million. A.A. continued its triennial surveys to learn more about itself. World Service Meetings, held bi-annually, gathered momentum, and reported developing service structures and rapidly growing membership almost everywhere abroad. Mini-conferences, soon renamed Regional Forums brought the Board and the office out to interested A.A.’s all over the U.S. and Canada.
A.A. was helped mightily by an outside event—the so-called Hughes Bill, hailed as “alcoholism’s Magna Carta.” Signed into law by President Nixon on December 31, 1969, the legislation was a sweeping recognition of alcoholism by the Federal government. Through grants to states, it led to alcoholism treatment programs by every state and almost every locality—literally thousands of treatment centers in all. And most of these facilities offered A.A. meetings on the premises and/or encouraged their patients to attend A.A. upon graduation. Although the treatment centers themselves, and particularly the influx of patients, caused some turmoil and some adjustment within some A.A. groups, the result of the referrals was a virtual flood of newcomers into the Fellowship. The armed services developed active alcoholism programs, bought huge quantities of A.A. literature, and became another source of referrals. Occupational alcoholism programs, which had existed in limited numbers since the ’40s, now proliferated explosively. Under a new and euphemistic name of Employee Assistance Programs, they, by any name, sent still more recruits to A.A.
The decade was also marked by unprecedented reaching out by the Board to other countries, through trips made by Dr. Jack Norris.
In 1972, he was invited by the U.S. Army to visit five cities in West Germany to help set up alcoholism programs. In his meetings with Army and civilian officials, he covered not only the disease of alcoholism but the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Local A.A. members were alerted by G.S.0. in New York, and met with Dr. Jack on his trip. The next year, he was invited by the U.S. Air Force to make a similar visit to bases in Germany, England, Greece and Spain. In 1975, he made an around-the-world trip. The purpose was to attend the International Congress on Alcohol and Drug Dependence in Bangkok, Thailand; but en route, before and after, Dr. Jack was able to able to visit A.A. groups in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, India, South Africa, France, Belgium, many cities in Germany, and England. On another occasion, he spent time with A.A.’s in Brazil and Columbia, South America, and made still other trips to Scandinavia. Similarly, the general manager of G.S.O., representing the Board, visited A.A. first in Australia and New Zealand; and later in Iceland, England, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, and Italy.
In 1971, the rotation and election of trustees according to Herb M.’s chart was completed and the General Service Board was at its full complement of 21. The first Class B trustees-at-large were Jim H. from the U.S. and Tom C. from Canada—though some vagueness remained over their status and function for several years. One thing was clear: they were not “super-regionals.” New Class A’s were Milton Maxwell, who was made chairman of the Grapevine board; and Dr. John Bealer of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, assistant medical director of Bethelehem Steel Co. and member of American Medical Society on Alcoholism, who was to serve with dedication and great enthusiasm until 1980.
Meeting immediately after Bill’s death, one of the first actions of the Board was a resolution to Lois, acknowledging her role in A.A. as well as Al-Anon since “no words can express the Board’s love and gratitude to Bill.” And a professional writer, Robert Thomsen, came to the Board claiming Bill and Lois had chosen him to write a biography of A.A.’s co-founder which Harper, & Row had agreed to publish After checking with Lois and the book publisher, who confirmed Thomsen’s claim, the Board agreed tc cooperate by making archival materials available to the author. In return, he agreed to submit his manuscript to A.A. for review. A small ad hoc committee of the Board plus two staff—Nell Wing and Paula C., managing editor of the Grapevine—were appointed as liaison. The project took four years to complete, and the biography, entitled simply Bill W. was published in hard-back in 1975. The Board promptly authorized purchase, at a discount price, of several thousand copies to be sold at the International Convention in Denver in July and then added to inventory of literature offered by G.S.O.
The Board immediately ran into objections from some members of the Fellowship who felt that G.S.O. ‘s distributing a non-Conference-approved book by an outside publisher implied endorsement, in violation of the Sixth Tradition. The next year, the Conference action directed G.S.O. to cease distribution. “They were right, of course,” says Bob P., general manager of G.S.O. at the time. “The Board had simply assumed naively that a biography of the co-founder would be welcomed by the Fellowship. But in retrospect, there were other reasons to detach from the Bill W. book. It was primarily the love story of Bill and Lois and his drinking story; it treated rather superficially Bill’s A.A. involvement. Also, it was a fictionalized biography, with narration and dialogue which the author could not possibly have known.”
Robert Thomsen’s book continued to sell through bookstores. It was published in paperback and was condensed by Readers Digest. The Conference later authorized a definitive biography of Bill to be written by A.A.W.S. Entitled Pass It On, it was published in 1984. (See Chap. 12)
The Long Range Planning Committee met periodically during the early ’70s – not during Board weekends like the other standing committees, but separately and with more time for contemplation. They examined, for instance, “the dwindling quality of sponsorship” in A.A. On another occasion, a guest, Dr. Charles Aharan, a sociologist, talked on the mechanics of group therapy and what A.A. can learn from the professionals. “Or vice versa,” as one committee member put it.
A year after Bill’s death, Lois offered their home, Stepping Stones, to A.A. as a gift. After thorough discussion, the Board recommended against accepting her offer, feeling it would not be in keeping with the spirit of the Sixth Tradition. And the Conference confirmed that recommendation. (Lois subsequently made the same offer to Al-Anon, who also declined. Although Lois was disappointed and hurt at these decisions, she eventually followed a suggestion that she establish a separate, private foundation, with its own board of trustees, to ensure Stepping Stones would be maintained and preserved.)
Milton Maxwell informed the Board in 1972 that he had received a grant from the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) for a book on how Alcoholics Anonymous operates, to create better understanding among professionals. Dr. Maxwell wanted to be absolutely sure that it would not be interpreted as a conflict of interest for him to remain on the Board while engaged in this work. They assured him, however, that, his professional activities were separate from his Board obligations; and that, indeed, his book would be to A.A.’s benefit. That decision did not prevent the matter being brought before the Conference two years later, to Dr. Maxwell’s acute embarrassment. After a short but heated discussion, the “substantial unanimity” of the Conference supported Dr. Maxwell and the Board’s position. Completion of the work was considerably delayed as Dr. Maxwell replaced Dr. Jack as chairman of the General Service Board (see below), serving four years in that capacity. The book, titled The Alcoholics Anonymous Experience and subtitled “A Close-Up View for professionals”, was published in 1984 by McGraw-Hill Book Company and lived up to the promised expressed early by the Board. The author pointedly omits any personal identification with A.A.
Niles P. was elected a general service trustee in 1972, replacing Bayard P. Niles, a journalist from Connecticut, had been active in service, particularly as a volunteer at G.S.0. He resigned from the Board the following year to become assistant general manager under Bob H. to help with a big increase in workload at the office. Walter M., a public relations executive who joined the Board in 1973, was to have an especially heavy commitment as chairman of the trustees’ Public Information Committee and chairman of the A.A.W.S. Board, both of which meet monthly. In his professional capacity, he was responsible for the publicity and the pressroom at three international conventions (1970, ’75 and ’80), all of which had outstanding coverage. At the same time, Bob M., a long¬time member from a suburb of Hartford, Conn., became a trustee and chairman of the Professional Relations Committee—renamed the Cooperation with the Professional Community (CPC) Committee the next year – which made great strides under his leadership. Bob H. also served as chairman of the A.A.W.S. Board.
The trustees decided in the mid-’70s to hold an A.A. meeting during each Board weekend, to help the staff, the non-trustee directors of the operating boards and the trustees get to know each other better. After a long evolution from the relatively brief daytime meetings of the Alcoholic Foundation in its early days, the quarterly meetings of the General Service Board had now settled into a format that filled a long weekend. Some trustees arrived in New York as early as Thursday to attend the A.A.W.S. or Grapevine Board meetings, and most of the rest checked into the Hotel Roosevelt by Friday evening. The eleven regular committee meetings commenced early Saturday morning and continued all day, usually two running concurrently. Saturday dinner was open to non-trustee directors, non-trustee committee members and G.S.O. staff and their spouses or guests, followed by the A.A. meeting—, followed, in turn, by the customary ice cream run. Committee meetings continued through Sunday, with the town-meeting-like Policy Committee scheduled for early afternoon (later replaced by; the “General Sharing Session”). After a trustees-only dinner Sunday evening, they remained at the table for several hours of informal discussion of concerns they did not wish to bring up for formal debate at the Board meeting. The purpose, the agenda and the tone of these trustees-only sessions were set to some extent by the current chairman. Finally, on Monday morning, the actual Board meeting was held from 9 a.m. until noon, attended by the staff and other key executive personnel, and consultants. After lunch, the out-of-town trustees left for home.
Among the issues requiring Board attention in this era were these. In California, a judge had begun giving drunk-driving offenders the choice of going to jail or going to A.A. meetings. Some groups were upset over the “sentencing” of people to A.A. when they did not want to be there, and over the request that the secretary sign attendance cards. This problem, first discussed by the Board in 1972, was to burgeon to national proportions in the years that followed. Organizations patterned after A.A. were springing up constantly—e.g., Gamblers Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc., etc.—and wished to use the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, the Preamble, and sometimes more extensive portions of A.A. literature. Bill favored sharing A.A.’s recovery program as widely as possible, but the Board also felt its responsibility to protect the Fellowship’s proprietary rights to its own literature. So the trustees wrestled with the task of setting the right policy path to follow. The National Council on Alcoholism, trying to lessen the stigma of the disease, was pressing to identify “recovered alcoholics” by full name and full face on television. Since most of these were A.A. members, many of the A.A.’s in the TV audience saw this as a violation of the Eleventh Tradition. After furrowing their brows over several months, the trustees arrived at the policy that if a person shown full face on TV identified himself or herself only as a “recovered alcoholic”, it was technically not an anonymity break; however, a person appearing on TV as an A.A. member should be shown only in shadow and only by first name and initial.
An internal policy matter with which the Board came to grips was the length of term of the non-trustee committee members. The service given by these specially qualified volunteers was invaluable to the functioning of some of the trustees’ committees. For example, trustees did not necessarily have experience inside jails or prisons (though some certainly did!), so it was only logical to augment the Institutions Committee with A.A. members who had served time. And few trustees had worked for newspapers or broadcast media, nor were they public relations professionals. So if the work of the committee was to be done, it needed additional members with this background. And so it was with other committees as well. In their reports, the trustee chairmen frequently acknowledged their deep debt to the non-trustee members. However, some of the latter served on their committees year after year, indefinitely, since no limit was set. The Board, therefore, established a policy that non-trustee members must rotate out after four one-year terms.
As noted before, Bill had long tried to preserve historic records “so that the story of A.A. cannot be garbled.” Two years after his death, the Board felt the needs was even more pressing and voted to establish an A.A. Archives as part of G.S.O. A trustees’ Archives Committee was set up to help implement the decision and to formulate policy: What documents should be classified confidential, and what freely shared? Who should be given the right of access to the files? Should photos and memorabilia be saved along with written records? And so on. The Archives, under the direction of Nell Wing, was officially opened at a ceremony following the November, 1975, meeting of the General Service Board.
Bob P., who had rotated off the Board two years before, was approved in July, 1974, as the next general manager of G.S.O. He joined the office in September and stepped into the job January 1, 1978, reporting to Bob H., who retained the historic title of Chairman of General Services until he retired at the end of 1977. Bob P. was to continue as general manager until after the 50th Anniversary International Convention in July, 1985.
During the ’70s, partly as a result of the Hughes Bill, large numbers of A.A.s became employed in the field of alcoholism. “The ‘two-hatters’ who always kept it clear which hat they were wearing had no trouble,” says Bob M., CPC chairman at the time. “But those who mixed up the two hats made problems for themselves and us, too.” The subject recurred at the Board deliberations. Because the annual Forum of the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA) attracted those employed in the field, including A.A. members, the Board was invited to put on a workshop for them. Through the CPC committee and with G.S.O. staff help, this participation at the Forums continued for several years. And as the number of treatment centers increased dramatically, the importance of “bridging the gap” into A.A. occupied more and more attention at the Board level.
The Board was involved, as usual, in the 40th Anniversary International Convention held in Denver, Colorado, in July, 1975. The event was an overwhelming success, and Bob H., chairman of the Convention, was able to report to the Board meeting held immediately afterward in Denver that paid registrations totaled 19,300—far in excess of the 12,000 budgeted. This produced a surplus convention income of about $83,000 for the General Fund. (See Chap. 21) A brand-new Class A trustee at the Convention was Gordon Patrick, from Toronto, Canada. Manager of the provincial government’s Employee Alcoholism Program and formerly associated with the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, was a long-time loyal friend of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was to serve the Board so well that he was to become its Chairman in 1982.
One of the most outstanding nonalcoholic trustees in the history of the Board was elected in 1976. He was Michael Alexander, who as a young attorney had been an associate of Bernard Smith! As a partner in the law firm of Smith, Steibel, Alexander and Saskor, he had been for 20 years the outside legal counsel to the Board. Alexander was to serve faithfully and brilliantly on the Finance Committee, the Policy Committee, as a trustee director of the A.A. World Services Board and in many other ways. He became recognized as an authority on the Concepts and on his own wrote a condensed version of them which became a G.S.O. service piece. The respect he enjoyed from the delegates as well as his peers on the Board made his opinion always influential until his rotation in 1985.
An epochal action of the Board its Denver meeting was approval of the proposal to hold experimental mini-conferences (renamed the next year Regional Forums). The idea was attributed to Dr. Jack, who tells how it came about. “From the hostile attitude of a few delegates at the Conference over the years, I was aware of a general lack of understanding between ‘them’ and ‘us’. Then, in December of 1974, I went to San Francisco to deliver a paper on the results of the membership survey to the North American Congress on Alcohol Problems. Bob M. and Mary Ellen U. from the staff went with me because they were on CPC. George D., the delegate from that area, took advantage of our being there to arrange a large service meeting held in an amphitheater type of room. It was mostly a group of dissidents, and the meeting mostly consisted of Bob M., Mary Ellen and myself answering their questions. And it seemed to take the fire out of that meeting. Bob M. especially was such a great person, so easy and comfortable like an old shoe, you couldn’t be mad at him. That meeting gave me the idea,” Dr. Jack concludes. “It made me realize it was important for members throughout the movement to be able to meet the trustees and the G.S.O. staff members and ask them questions and get them answered.”
George D., who later became a notable regional trustee, remembers the meeting and what happened afterward. “Bob H. called me from New York and asked me if I would write him a letter about it, with the idea that it might be done elsewhere. So I did, and the next thing I knew my letter had been circulated to all the delegates. I knew I had been ‘used'” says George, “but I didn’t mind because it was an exciting idea.” Indeed, Bob H. had pounced on the concept enthusiastically, because he had long felt that the delegates’ reporting of the Conference to their constituencies back home was an inadequate form of communication, and had harbored the notion of some kind of’ road show’ to take the trustees and the staff out to the Fellowship. With Dr. Jack and Bob H. taking the lead, the proposal was approved by the Board and—after two experimental mini-conferences—by the General Service Conference as well. (See Chap. 11 on the Conference and Chap. 16 for a history of the Regional Forums.)
Another factor was having a salutary effect on the quality of the delegates and regional trustees. As reported to the Board during these years, nearly all the regions now held annual meetings of past and present delegates and trustees prior to the Conference. At first such meetings were viewed with suspicion that they were a means of prolonging the power of the past delegates and trustees; or a means of instructing newly elected delegates how to vote. However, in actual practice these fears proved groundless, and—besides enjoyment of fellowship with friends in service—the gatherings served to put new delegates at ease and better prepare them for their Conference responsibilities.
At the 1976 Conference, during a floor discussion, Austin MacCormick rose to point out that the deliberations of the Conference Institutions Committee were clumsy because they covered both treatment and correctional facilities which had very little in common. It was moved on the spot to divide the Institutions committee into a Treatment Committee and a Corrections Committee. So, the Board followed suit afterward.
In the 40 years since A.A. began, communications had changed in the outside world. Television was now in every home, and young people were accustomed to learning through audio-visual media—films, filmstrips and videocassettes—in addition to the printed word. The trustees’ Literature Committee took note and recommended the formation of an Audio/Visual Subcommittee. The Board approved. The A/V Subcommittee authorized a filmstrip to be made to explain the service structure, “Circles of Love and Service,” The Board then took the giant step of authorizing—subject to Conference approval—a documentary film about A.A. providing it could be made within the anonymity tradition.
The French Literature Committee in Quebec had by now translated and published in the French language the majority of the Conference-approved literature. However, Quebec delegates now reported problems. According to them, the committee was operating with a self-perpetuating board of directors who were not responsible to any A.A. service entity. The delegate complained that French-language literature was overpriced and that the committee was building up a large surplus. They appealed for help from A.A.W.S. and through them, from the General Service Board. Fortunately, the Eastern Canada regional trustee at the time was a bilingual dynamo, Peter W., who tackled the problem. He arranged a two-day meeting in Montreal of the interested parties: the French Literature Committee; the Quebec delegates; and from A A W S the president, the controller, Dennis Manders and the staff coordinator, with himself presiding It was a stormy meeting ostensibly conducted in English but with long portions breaking over into French, marked by French excitability It proved to be an historic meeting, for it led eventually to the creation of a French Literature Conseul, or board, of nine members four from the French Literature Committee, four Quebec delegates, and the Eastern Canada trustee—meeting frequently to set policy and supervise the committee. In addition, meetings have continued to be held annually in locations rotated around Quebec for a larger representation from the committee, a larger delegation from the Quebec service structure, and representatives of A.A.W.S. These meetings have been helpful in ironing out other problems in ensuring that equal services are provided to A.A.’s French-speaking constituency.
W.J. “Jim” Estefle, Jr., was named a Class A trustee in 1977, replacing Austin MacCormick as the Board’s expert in corrections. He was director of the Texas Department of corrections. A man of deep compassion, who understood and admired A.A., Jim was to be a strong and influential leader throughout his nine years on the Board, not only as chairman of the Committee on correctional Facilities but on the Finance, Nominating and other committees.
Also in 1977, John B. was elected a director of A.A.W.S. after serving as a non-trustee member of the trustees’ Public Information Committee. With a Ph.D. in physics, John had joined A.A. in 19?? in the Albany/Schenectady area where he was an executive in research and development for a large -corporation. He moved to New York City in another executive position and became very active in A.A. there. He was to become a general service trustee (see below) and in 1985, general manager of G.S.O.
At the October, 1976, Board meeting, Dr. Jack Norris announced his intention to retire as chairman after the 1978 Conference, four months before his 75th birthday. He had been a trustee for 27 years, chairman for 17. Handsome, white haired, gentle, wise and internationally respected in the field of alcoholism, Dr. Jack was the quintessential chairman figure. The trustees’ Nominating Committee, Chuck H., chairman, polled the remaining Class A’s to see who would be available and who they would favor. The vice Chairman, Milton Maxwell, was the obvious choice. The problem was, he said he could not accept. He was absorbed at the time in his book project.
The deadline for a decision drew nearer. Dr. Maxwell attended the January, 1978, meeting of the Nominating Committee, where, after discussion, he was asked to wait outside He recalls that John W., a respected regional trustee from Washington D.C., took him by the arm and pleaded, “Don’t say no ” A few moments later, Dr. Maxwell was called back in. “I went in there determined to turn it down,” he recalls. “I really meant to. But after I explained about the book and why I couldn’t accept—then I just sort of gave in and said I’d do it. The words came out of a funny feeling, an interesting feeling, and for a month or two I wondered, “Was that valid “guidance”?’ It certainly set my book back by a couple of years, but that’s all right. I’m happy about it all now. It seems to me there was a period of tranquillity on the Board and in A.A. generally those four years—no stresses and strains like there have been more recently.
Appropriately, a year before Dr Norris retired he received the Gold Key award of the NCA for his years of leadership of Alcoholics Anonymous He was only the ninth such recipient in NCA history.
That Dr. Maxwell has such pleasant memories of his term is a measure of the man, for the Board included two Class B trustees who are remembered by some of their peers as being fractious and contentious When they were rude to the Chairman, he remained imperturbable. On the other hand, the Board also included a number of notable Class B’s who made memorable contributions. One of these was Virginia H. from Milwaukee, a round woman with a pretty, smiling face, who had served 14 years in prison and went on to be a leader in service, including U.S. delegate to the WSM in Helsinki, Finland. Her enthusiasm, her boisterous laugh and her A.A. love made her loss in a highway accident in (WHEN) especially poignant.
Another was N.M. “Mac’. C., trustee-at-large from Winnipeg, Canada, also a WSM delegate. Known for his twelfth-step work and sponsorship, Mac was widely in demand as a speaker. His talk at the spiritual meeting on Sunday morning at the 1980 International Convention in New Orleans, in which he shared his loss of a son to cancer followed by his own recent cancer surgery, was called by one staff member (along with many others) “the finest A.A. talk I ever heard.” A thinker and philosopher, Mac goaded his fellow – Class B’s to rise up to their responsibility to all of A.A. and not to think of themselves as regional, not to be simply a “super-delegate”. The Fellowship makes two kinds of contributions to World Services,” he said, “one is money and the other is people.”
Among the policy decisions of the Board in the late ’70s were these. It formalized and affirmed the principle set forth in Concept IX relating to compensation of paid workers; namely, that managers, staff members, employees and consultants at G.S.O. and the Grapevine were entitled to compensation comparable to what they would be paid for in the outside world. They set forth a financial policy for the Grapevine requiring that the reserve for unearned subscriptions be part of the Reserve Fund of A.A. under the control of the trustees and invested by the trustees’ Finance Committee. It should, however, be earmarked for the use for which it was intended, and the interest earned on this money would be available to the magazine to apply against any operating deficits that might be incurred. This policy had initially been vehemently resisted by the Grapevine staff and corporate board, chaired by Chuck H. It was finally hammered out at an ad hoc meeting held during a Regional Forum in Amarillo, Texas, and was referred to afterward as “The Treaty of Amarillo.”
On learning of Dr. Jack’s intention to retire, the Southeast-New York area assembly forwarded to the Board a resolution that an -alcoholic Class B should be the next chairman. In considering the matter, the Board felt there were advantages to having the chairman able to act as a spokesperson to the press and to the public; but more importantly, that election of an A.A. member to the post would politicize the position. Their recommendation against the resolution was later affirmed by the Conference once again George D., delegate from the Northern Coastal area of California, put the cap on the Conference discussion when he rose to the microphone to declare, “If alcoholics could run for Board chairman, Sam S (delegate from South Florida) and I would already be trying to knock each other out of the race!”
Through the trustees’ Literature Committee, the Board had to deal with another area complaint, this one from the Northern Interior area of California, to the effect that “New York was trying to weaken the anonymity tradition. The specific indictment was the wording of a sentence in the pamphlet, Understanding Anonymity, which said that A.A. speakers at public meetings may use their full names if they ask the press to identify them only by first name and last initial and request no photographs be taken. The letter from the area quoted Bill as saying that speakers at public meetings should use first names only. They were right—but so was the wording of the pamphlet, for Bill had said different things at different times, consistency not being one of his hallmarks. So the Board left it up to the Conference, which decided on the more conservative rule and the wording was changed in the pamphlet.
“Bridging the gap” continued to be a concern, and a paper on the subject by Dr. Jack was recommended by the Board as a service piece. Notice was taken through the International Committee that cockpit personnel of commercial airlines were holding regularly scheduled, very anonymous A.A. meetings of their own, usually at airports in the U.S. and abroad. They called themselves “Birds of a Feather.” (See Chap. 19)
A.A.W.S. reports to the Board as the decade drew to a close revealed exciting activity worldwide. The Tokyo G.S.O. was being helped financially to publish the Big Book in Japanese; and Norway, to produce a 3rd edition in Norwegian. Permission to reprint A.A. literature in Australia was withdrawn from the New South Wales service office and granted, instead, to the more recently formed General Service Board for that country. A ruckus ensued and Bob P. was authorized to go over and attempt to resolve the dispute. Dr. Jack was authorized to deliver a paper at the International Congress on Alcoholism in Warsaw, Poland—and attend the WSM in Finland afterward, as an observer. Dr. Bealer was authorized to attend a World Health Organization meeting on alcoholism in Geneva, Switzerland (November, 1979) also as an observer. Dr. Maxwell accepted an invitation from the General Service Board in Iceland to attend the 25th Anniversary convention of A.A. there.
On April 16, 1973, the one millionth copy of the Big Book was presented to the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, in a brief ceremony at the White House. Present were Dr. Jack, Bob H., and Tom P., a prominent A.A. member from Los Angeles who was a friend of the President. On WHAT DATE, 1979, the two millionth copy was presented to Secretary of Health, Education and welfare Joseph Califano by Lois Wilson in a ceremony at A.A.’s General Service Office in New York. (Secretary Califano was the highest ranking government official ever to visit G.S.O.)
In the ’70s, the country experienced the worst inflationary spiral of the twentieth century; and A.A. grew phenomenally. The congruence of these two events meant that greatly increased services were required of G.S.O., but the budget to supply those services also increased. At the same time, literature sales skyrocketed. A.A. Controller Dennis Manders and Owen J. “Bud” Flanagan, A.A.’s outside auditor and financial advisor to the general Service Board as well as to the A.A.W.S. and Grapevine boards, had both followed these trends closely, and in July, 1978, they briefed Frank Smeal, who had replaced Arthur Miles as treasurer of the Board and chairman of its Finance Committee. Hence, at that time, the Board took formal note of—and viewed with some alarm—the fact that the portion of the cost of group services represented by group contributions was declining (even though the dollar amount of group contributions was increasing); and the reliance on literature income to make up the shortfall was growing. Eight years were to pass before this concern was translated into a self-support program.
Meanwhile, the financial picture of Alcoholics Anonymous had come a long way from the desperate situation in the early days of the old Alcoholic Foundation. Literature sales in 1979 were $3,274,520 – and even after subtracting the cost of producing the material and the royalties, the income was $1,913,560. Group contributions totaled $1,226,770. The 1979 budget for the office, Conference expenses, and Board expenses totaled $2,625,200. At the end of the year, the Reserve Fund balance stood at $2,689,550.
As opening occurred, the Board acquired two medical doctors as Class A trustees. Kenneth H. Williams, whose primary interest was teaching physicians and other health care professionals about alcoholism, had been a speaker on the medical panel at the Denver Convention, where he had impressed Board members. He was invited to join the Board in 1979. He died near the end of his term in April, 1986. William E. Flynn was already well-known to the Board -when he was elected trustee in 1980. As a professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., he had met A.A. regional trustee John W., and together they had devised a plan to actually sponsor first-year medical students to attend A.A. meetings as part of their curriculum, as a way to teach them how to deal with alcoholism. This “Georgetown Plan” was copied by a number of other medical schools. In his term as trustee, Bill Flynn was not only to chair the Treatment Facilities Committees but give valued service on the CPC, International and other committees, and as a director on the Grapevine board.
The Board’s major activity in 1980 was, as in any Convention year, the 45th Anniversary International Convention on a swelteringly hot four-day July Fourth weekend in New Orleans. The program featured far more simultaneous state and regional alkathons and workshops than ever before, plus the first marathon meeting going continuously, day and night, from Thursday midnight to Sunday morning. Homosexual A.A. members held their first “official” events at an International Convention The 22,500 paid registrations included a record number of overseas A.A.’s, especially from Latin America and including en masse the delegates from the WSM held the week before in Glen Cove, New York. Despite the largest-ever crowd and the success of the Convention, it resulted in a deficit of $208,000. The highly publicized heat wave plus an economic recession reduced attendance below the 25,000 budgeted; and some expenses (e.g. for transportation and simultaneous translation service mandated by the Conference) ran unexpectedly and unavoidably over budget. The 1981 Conference directed to Board not to budget future Internationals for a deficit and to make sure they would be supported entirely by registration income.
The Board meeting immediately following the close of the Convention was attended by so many guests—directors of the subsidiary boards, WSM delegates and others—and was so confusing, due partly to everyone’s fatigue, that it was recommended that future Board meetings not be held in conjunction with Internationals. One piece of business that was transacted arose from the death of Aime D., from British Columbia, who had been elected Western Canada regional trustee in April but had died only a month later. It was decided to leave the position vacant until the 1981 Conference.
When Mike R., Southwest regional trustee, had chaired the trustees’ Archives Committee in 1979, he had asked, “How many in the Fellowship even know there is an Archives?” Largely at his initiative, the Board approved production of a filmstrip to “take the Archives out to the Fellowship”—and, through this vehicle, to inform them about their own origins and history. Entitled Markings on a Journey the filmstrip was completed in 1980 and was an immediate hit at regional forums and other A.A. conferences and conventions.
In the outside society, the women’s liberation movement had—gained momentum during the seventies. In response, the Board had authorized A.A. pamphlets to be degenderized as they came up for revision or reprinting – and this had been done. Feminists also – registered objections to the completely masculine orientation of the Big Book; some specifically found the use of the male pronoun in referring to God offensive. Now, however, the Board rejected, as a matter of policy, proposals to change the wording of Alcoholics Anonymous or The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, on the grounds they were historical documents reflecting the times in which they were written.
Also in the outside world, the number of retired and elderly was increasing—and so was the incidence of alcoholism in this population. To help reach them, the Board had authorized the pamphlet Time to Start Living, published in 1979, and now it probed ways to carry the message into retirement communities, nursing homes, etc.
During most of 1981, an ad hoc committee chaired by Western Canada regional trustee Al H. was engaged in reviewing A. A. literature to see what might be eliminated or combined. The Conference had long been ambivalent on the subject. It had worked with the Board to produce a solid body of books and pamphlets: the recovery material from the literature committees and other pamphlets to meet the expressed needs of the committees on public information, professional relations (later CPC), institutions, etc. Although literature was produced only at the direction of the Conference, new generations of trusted servants felt vaguely that there was “too much.” An earlier committee in 1974 had eliminated two titles by combining them with others, and the pamphlet So You Think You’re Different was produced primarily to prevent a proliferation of pieces directed at special audiences. Now, after a thorough review, the new committee could not find any title that did not help the still-suffering-alcoholic directly or indirectly—though they did recommend some changes and improvements.
As A.A. grew, the service structure showed some strains. District committee members (DCMs) were ideally responsible for six to 20 groups, but in some areas districts grew to 100 groups or more before the situation was remedied: either by subdividing into several districts each with a DCM, or by creating a new echelon of local committeemen. And some imbalance existed both geographically and population-wise among the regions. A past delegate from Southern California, Carl B., submitted to the Board a carefully thought out and detailed plan for reorganizing the service structure. Although the proposal was recognized to have Some merit and provoked some serious discussion, it was decided that no action was called for at this time.
As the number of Board committees grew to 11 and took over many of the functions of the early Policy Committee, it became known in the mid-’70’s as the General Sharing Session, it was still the place to bring up matters not within the province of any specific committee, or to discuss a subject requested by someone, or to consider broad concerns that had formerly fallen to the defunct Long Range Planning Committee, The format of the session permitted a two-hour, in-depth discussion of a single topic: dually-addicted members; anonymity; self-support; how to prevent A.A.’s “playing doctor” with members taking prescribed medications; how to make A.A. more attractive to newcomers; “bridging the gap”; etc.
Dr. Maxwell announced at the November, 1981, Board meeting that he would resign for health reasons after the next Conference, He had experienced some minor speech difficulties that had been diagnosed as the beginning of Parkinson’s disease. George D., whose term as Pacific regional trustee coincided exactly with Dr. Maxwell’s term as chairman, recalls his distress at the news. “As a delegate, I had known Dr. Jack, who was a great man and a strong leader, no question about it. But Milton had an enormously beneficial influence, too. He told me he felt the group dynamics of the Board were bad and he wanted to get the trustees to open more with each other as a group—less whispering in the corridors. To create an atmosphere in which we all felt more comfortable in freely expressing our opinions and feelings to each other was definitely part of his agenda. And I think for at least three years he succeeded in this. We had some really wonderful Sunday night meetings after the trustees’ dinners.. I loved that man.”
The Nominating Committee again polled the Class A’s as to their availability and their recommendations for candidates. Their selection was Gordon Patrick from Toronto, Canada (see above), whose seven years of loyal and dedicated service had made him unusually knowledgeable in the workings of the Board. He had chaired a number of committees and often attended other committee meetings as an interested observer. Taking office in July, 1982, he blossomed in the chairmanship and will be remembered for his energy, enthusiasm and activism. He attended every Regional Forum, welcoming the attendees on Friday night, summarizing the proceedings on Sunday morning and participating at the sessions in between—and praised the Forums as a valuable communications tool. From his own experience, he felt the trustees did not take enough active responsibility and leadership; and that, as a consequence, the G.S.O. staff had moved in to fill the void. So one of his first acts was to appoint what was simply called the Ad Hoc Committee, whose assignment was to help the General Service Board take its own inventory. John B. was chairman, and it included Michael Alexander; David A., Southwestern regional trustee. After a year of separate meetings, interviews with present and past trustees, probing of records and diligent work, the Ad Hoc Committee presented its lengthy report at a special meeting of the Board prior to its October, 1983, gathering. The discussion that followed took four hours!
One immediate outgrowth was the appointment by Gordon Patrick of a Committee to Study the Concepts, chaired by O.S. “Buck” B., East Central regional trustee, known as an outspoken and militant critic of the general manager and staff of G.S.O. The mission of this committee was to discover the origin of deletions and changes in the Twelve Concepts that had been made routinely over the years when the structure and practices themselves had changed. The alterations had not passed through the Conference approval process, and were apparently believed by “Buck” B. and others to be an attempt at subversion by the staff. Exactly a year later, the committee’s report was made, entitled “Changes, Authorized and Unauthorized, in the Twelve Concepts.” Although the findings were innocuous compared to the furor that prompted the investigation, the Board voted to accept the committee’s recommendation that A.A. return to the original 1962 version of the Concepts, with the use of footnotes to indicate where it was obsolete and did not accurately reflect present reality.
Lois Wilson had now turned 91 and requested that A.A.W.S. amend certain provisions of the 1962 royalty agreement that Bill had negotiated with them. (See Chap. 12). Under that agreement, Bill had bequeathed his royalty from the A.A. books he had written to his widow, Lois; and she, in turn, was entitled to will them to her heirs providing these individuals were at least 40 years of age at the time of the agreement. (At the death of each heir, the royalty would revert to A.A.) Lois now wished to be allowed to leave a portion of her royalties to a foundation (the Stepping Stones Foundation, established to maintain and preserve the home and to fund educational programs in alcoholism). She also wished to include a nephew, son of Dr. Leonard Strong, as one of her heirs even though he missed the cut-off date by a few months. After prolonged but amicable negotiations, the A.A.W.S. and General Service Board agreed to her requests, with the provision that payment of the portion of royalties left to the foundation would cease after 15 years.
In 1983, Joan K. Jackson, Ph.D., was elected to the Board, the first female Class A trustee. A sociologist and consultant to local and national boards and committees on alcoholism and on health and human behavior, she had been involved with A.A. and Al-Anon in the Seattle area before moving with her husband to Bethany, Conn. Brilliant and dynamic, Dr. Jackson began immediately to make significant contributions to the Board. In their behalf, she accepted, in 1984, an award from the Association of Labor & Management Alcoholism Counselors of America (ALMACA) to Alcoholics Anonymous. She provided leadership to several trustees’ committees; and, as chairperson of the Literature Committee, was responsible for the writing and production of this book.
Upon Arthur Miles’ rotation from the Board in 1979, his replacement was Frank Smeal. A partner in the prestigious Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs & Co., Mr. Smeal’s business obligations were so demanding that he was unable to attend most of the Board meetings or trustees’ dinners, and so, after five years, he regretfully resigned. The person elected to take his place as trustee, treasurer and chairman of the Finance & Budgetary Committee bore a familiar name: Robert P. Morse. He was the son of the other Robert P. Morse who serves in the same position from 1965 to 1970! Head of his own investment-counseling firm, he had served two years as a consultant to the Finance Committee.
Bob P. informed the Board in July 1983 that he intended to retire in February 1987, upon reaching his 70th birthday. As he had managed the office without an assistant for eight years and was feeling the pressure of his administrative responsibilities, he requested that his successor be brought on board in the next year, if possible. A subcommittee of the Nominating Committee was formed to conduct a search for Bob’s replacement. After screening about a dozen suggested candidates, they narrowed their choice to two whose names were presented to the Nominating Committee in January 1984. The other members of that committee passed over these candidates and drafted John B., who had not made himself available and had to be persuaded to accept. He reported for duty at G.S.O. May 1. He took over his new duties gradually over the next year, and assumed full responsibility of the office immediately following the 50th Anniversary International convention in July 1985. (Bob P. remained as Senior Advisor until his announced retirement date.)
Montreal, Canada, had been chosen as the site of the next International Convention, and through the early ’90s the trustees heard reports of unusually aggravating difficulties encountered in the planning due to the language difference and local political problems. A new interest in the Concepts was exemplified by the by-laws of the General Service Board being amended to include the Concepts in their short form, and also by a recommendation of the Literature Committee (reversing an earlier position) that a proposal for a “Twelve Concepts Illustrated” pamphlet be “explored and considered.” And the biography of Bill was published in late 1984. Titled ‘Pass It On’ and subtitled The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, the book was a companion-volume to the biography of the other co-founder, Dr.Bob and the Good Oldtimers, published four years before. (See Chap. 12)
As Alcoholics Anonymous prepared to enter its second half-century (see final chapter), the General Service Board reflected the maturity, strength and confidence of the Fellowship it served.